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Science And Nature

Perseverance Mars rover photographs its landing debris

This image of Perseverance’s backshell sitting upright on the surface of Jezero Crater was collected from an altitude of 26 feet (8 meters) by NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during its 26th flight at Mars on April 19, 2022.

This image of Perseverances backshell sitting upright at first glance of Jezero Crater was collected from an altitude of 26 feet (8 meters) by NASAs Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during its 26th flight at Mars on April 19, 2022.(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

On Mars, there is a unique sort of “tumbleweed” rolling over the Martian plains.

These tumbleweeds aren’t plants – they’re pieces ofdebris from the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) hardware from NASA’s Perseverance rover. Percy has been sounding several remnants, photographing them in order that engineers can study them.

During its landing on February 18, 2021, several hardware elements slowed the spacecraft’s speed from 12,500 mph (20,000 kph) when it first entered the Martian atmosphere to essentially zero miles each hour when it had been gently positioned on the surface by way of a sky crane. And that happened in only seven minutes.

Related: A fresh 7 minutes of terror: Start to see the nail-biting Mars landing stages of NASA’s Perseverance rover in this video

Once their jobs were complete, EDL hardware just like the parachute, backshell, heat shield, and the sky crane were all jettisoned from the Perseverance rover, crashing into Mars some distance from the rover in order never to damage it.

In the last year . 5, the Perseverance team has spotted and cataloged around six bits of suspected EDL debris. The initial piece was discovered on April 16, 2022, when an unusually bright object was spotted in another of Perseverance’s panoramic Mastcam-Z photos. “The material was presented with a descriptive name: ‘bright material’. Nobody knew what it had been at that time, but possibly the rover would have a closer look since it climbed up onto the delta in the coming weeks,” wrote NASA in a post (opens in new tab).

Almost a year later, Perseverance managed to get to that invest the delta, called Hogwallow Flats. On June 12, 2022, it photographed the mysterious object, suspected to become a little bit of multi-layer insulation (MLI) from the sky crane, manufactured from either Perforated Aluminized Kapton (PAK) or Mylar, that flutters in the wind such as a flag. In exactly the same region, the rover also caught a snapshot of a quick-moving knotted ball of “string-like material.” That may be Dacron, a netting found in thermal blankets, based on the operations team.

String-like material that the Perseverance rover photographed on the surface of Mars.

String-like material that the Perseverance rover photographed at first glance of Mars. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Interestingly, Hogwallow Flats is a lot more than 1.25 miles (two kilometers) from the crash zones of Perseverance’s EDL hardware. “Hogwallow Flats is apparently an all natural collecting point for windblown EDL debris,” notes NASA.

Perseverance’s helicopter companion Ingenuity has gotten close up and personal with a number of the EDL debris. On April 19, 2022, Ingenuity flew on the crash site of Perseverance’s backshell and parachute, taking high-resolution images of the debris.

Such fields of intentionally discarded debris aren’t uncommon on Mars, as landings on the Red Planet are usually somewhat violent events. Both Opportunity and Curiosity rovers also have photographed what’s suspected to be their very own EDL debris.

For the present time, landing spacecraft safely on Mars may be the number 1 priority, but once we continue steadily to plant rovers on earth, researchers will have to think about the ramifications of such space junk. “Engineers designing EDL hardware for future missions will have to think about the impact (literally) of these designs on both Mars and on the mission requirements,” said NASA.

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Stefanie Waldek

Space.com contributing writer Stefanie Waldek is really a self-taught space nerd and aviation geek who’s passionate about everything spaceflight and astronomy. With a background in travel and design journalism, in addition to a Bachelor of Arts degree from NY University, she focuses on the budding space tourism industry and Earth-based astrotourism. In her leisure time, you can get her watching rocket launches or finding out about at the stars, wondering what’s out there. Find out more about her just work at www.stefaniewaldek.com (opens in new tab).

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